The Adopted Country

Vintage Postcard from Etsy.com
Vintage Postcard from Etsy.com

Last week I became British. Would that this transformation had been of the alchemical kind, mythic– involving epic blessings from ladies in lakes, land spirits or the like– but it was bloodless, merely expensive and full of bureaucracy, which is perhaps appropriate– expense and bureaucracy has marked my life on this island since I arrived.

Twenty of us in a beautiful gilded room in the Georgian Mansion House, in the residence of the Lord Mayor (she’s a woman, actually). Both she and the Sheriff welcomed us in their flowing, archaic robes. They shook our hands, congratulated us and gave us all commemorative gold coins and more forms.  A patient civil servant oversaw the ceremony with an admirable degree of sincerity. We were here now, she said, to share our talents and cultures with our new home.

And at one point we were all drowned out by a brass band– for a moment I thought they really do it up right here in York. But it wasn’t for us– all the ill-timed fanfare was for the 62nd anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.

And the Queen was there– by proxy– in the form of a gigantic, garish gold sceptre laid upon the table before us, looking like some bling’ed out cudgel. We said the oath together– the faithful first, swearing on their various holy books, and then the rest of us heathens, affirming the oath of loyalty to the Queen.  And once that humiliation was over, there was a mean portion of tea– inexcusably tepid and too-strong. Maybe they thought the foreigners wouldn’t notice.

I did tear up a little. Maud knows why; maybe I’m a sucker for pomp after all. I’m an American swearing to the Queen– that waste of space in her miserable suits.  How many British folk would do the same? I’ll add this to the list of indignities we endure as immigrants. I rationalized it– didn’t my Viking ancestors willingly endure baptism with their fingers crossed behind their backs? It was good for trade, for their Master Plan.

To get through it, I closed my eyes and thought of England. I hummed Kate Bush’s Lionheart and envisioned this vintage postcard of the Queen laughing– so unlike her she might be someone else.  I might like her better if we could share a joke about all this. Other queens flashed before me:

elizabethThe ginger, eyebrow-less glamour of Queen Elizabeth the I, especially when played by Quentin Crisp in Orlando. Or how about Stephen Fry? I could swear to the entire cast of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee. Corn Dollies. Turf Mazes. Megaliths. Moorland heather. The Brontes and the NHS. Yes, I’ll swear to all of them.

I was never an Anglophile. I fell in love with this place through familiarity, like an arranged marriage. I find, ten years later, it has become a part of me.

Particularly since moving to Yorkshire, I’ve found the people here full of gentle kindness. It is indeed a green and pleasant land. I’m a healthcare refugee from the richest nation on Earth. I fled the Bush Administration thinking it was a temporary thing. I told myself, in Virginia Woolf’s words, “As I woman, I have no country.” Didn’t I just? Now I have two. It was England that taught me how to love America and being American– the disonance of being a stranger to myself, to the land where I was born which became increasingly alien as the years passed there without me.

England has given me a home.  A place to nest, to make a business that earns me a good living, free health care for my chronic and not-so-chronic ills. A place of beauty and adventure where my soul can put down roots.

Now I have an answer for the most common question I’m asked– hot after “Where are you from?” is always “Why on Earth are you here?” With all the disorientation that implies, I can return, quite happily with “I’m British.”

Proudly… Celebrating Small Businesses in York

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Merchant Adventurer's Hall, YorkI’m very excited to have a stall at this event celebrating Small Businesses in York. You can read more about the event on the Proudly… website. The event will take place in the glorious Merchant Adventurer’s Hall, from 10:00-15:30 on December 7th. The the 14th century hall was originally a meeting place for Medieval merchants– the perfect venue to celebrate the vibrant independent businesses of York.  “Merchant Adventurers” were seafaring merchants who brought back goods from many places to sell in York– they were traders with “an adventurous spirit”.  What a wonderful company– not just the current traders but to be part of a tradition that spans centuries. I’m proud to be included.

Merchant Adventurer’s Hall, York

Feature in the Artisan Issue of One&Other

One&Other, The Artisan Issue. Feral Strumpet is featured.
One&Other, The Artisan Issue. Feral Strumpet is featured.

I’m honoured to have my Tribal Hoop earrings included in the Artisan Issue of York’s One&Other magazine.

The Artisan Issue of One&Other, my Tribal Hoops are featured in the photo on the right.
The Artisan Issue of One&Other, my Tribal Hoops are featured in the photo on the right.

This issue is the second anniversary of this special magazine– it has lived in York about as long as I have. This little free bi-monthly magazine captures the soul of York– not an easy thing to do. Though the city is beautiful and full of history, the constant crowds of tourists can blur its essence.

The magazine captures what is going on, much in the way the LA Weekly did when I lived there, but One&Other is not only stylish and knowing, it’s got soul. Seeing the city through the loving lens of this magazine affirms my pride in living and working here.

Lovely fashion spread from the Artisan issue of One&Other
Lovely fashion spread from the Artisan issue of One&Other

When Alice Ostapjuk contacted me saying they wanted to use my Tribal Hoops in a photo shoot I was thrilled.

The Editorial Director, Vicky Parry says it best:

…We live in a walled city, one that has flourished on chocolate and attracts millions of tourists to bask in the shadows of its iconically-crafted buildings, to a modern labyrinth of eateries and crafts that bring us industry today…

…this issue pays homage to those that have passion; the people and projects that, like ourselves, were borne out of a hunger to create.

Thank you One&Other for the lovely feature– I’m proud to be included with the other artisans of York.

The White Rose of York

The minster illuminated with white roses. Photo by Kippa Matthews

Every place has its symbol that defines it, captures its genius loci.

In London I worked in the City for a spell– one of the darker times in my life. I would often look to the guardian of that place– the pizzled dragon with its heraldic erection, and wonder.   To survive the alienation and everyday struggle I would often call on dark things to help me.  They were always there, waiting.

The York Rose

What a contrast now to find the sigil of this city, York, to be a white, five petaled mandala.  I fell in love with it when I first saw it.  Though the history dates back to the House of York in the 14th century and the War of the Roses in the 15th century, it was really the Victorians who popularized the symbol.  Great urban planners they were (though they tried to take down the city walls!) But they were also sentimentalists, and the white rose as a municipal symbol seems uniquely Victorian.

Of course the rose is the Christian symbol representing Mary– and where Mary is, we are sure to find also a much older goddess that predates Christianity. The rose is a pagan symbol– with its five petals like the five arms of the pentagram. Their cyclical, spiraled structure suggests the unfurled labyrinth of faith.

White Rose of York earrings by Feral Strumpet on Etsy

The Ivory Bangle Woman

The Ivory Bangle Woman of York, reconstructed from her remains.

The Ivory Bangle Woman, so called because of the jewelry she was buried with, was seemingly one of the wealthiest women in Eboracum, or Roman York.  Archaeologists have recently proved that she was African.

Glass jug from Cologne, buried with the Ivory Bangle Woman of York.

Where Rome was, so was the world.  (The Mediterranean, North Africa and Europe, at least.) In Roman York, one did not have to be from one tribe or another– one could be Roman despite being born elsewhere.  It is difficult to imagine this in modern Yorkshire,  where ideas of what is British can often seem quite narrow.  But these ancient streets were once full of people from many different places– and they were not just slaves or men hired to be laborers or soldiers.  The modern tourist trade here may give us a glimpse of this diversity, but a migrant is not a tourist. (Though I’m often mistaken for the later, despite living in England for over seven years now, but I digress.)

As an immigrant, you become a paradox, of two places at once, and none but another  such stranger can understand this way of being.

I wonder at this woman, far from her first home in the sun.  What did she make of this green island, her new home?  She died here, accumulated wealth and was loved. Her grave goods on display in the Yorkshire Museum have fascinated me.  The beautiful objects, 16 centuries old, are simple, elegant and evoke the mixture of who she was. A perfect blue glass bottle from the workshops in Cologne and two bangles: one of African ivory– the other, Whitby Jet.

Eboracum: Glass earrings inspired by the grave goods of the Ivory Bangle Woman.

The Sound of Home

If there is a sound I associate with the city of York, it’s the bells of the minster.  They have little religious significance to me, and probably because of that they often seem a kind of aural ambush of the sublime, arriving suddenly and permeating the little streets with echoing peals that are quite haunting.  Just the other day the bells played a rendition of Greensleeves and then another melancholy carol– something that sounded much like Eliza’s Aria (which will now forever be known as the Lloyds TSB song).

I like to imagine the bells are summoned from the Minster itself, deep beneath the doomstone, and that they are the song of the many greenmen secreted in the mansory.  But really, it’s an athletic endeavor, the ringing of the bells. In the two towers there are 56 bells, the most bells of any English cathedral.  You can read about the bells and their ringers on the ringer’s site.  Listening to the bells reminds me of my favourite Tarkovsky film, Andrei Rublev, set in Medieval Russia, where the casting of a bell is an almost magical act.

After standing in the rain (ill advised– I caught cold) spellbound by the sound, I was inspired to make these earrings in tribute.

York Minster Rose Windows, Handmade Earrings by Feral Strumpet on Etsy